American Elegies for British Empire
This chapter charts the melancholy return to “dependence” in the nation's memory of the Revolutionary War, where separation from Britain was also a last, valedictory moment with Britain. New historiographical practices of the nineteenth century opened the way for alternative accounts of the Revolution that did not express a sense of national destiny but registered independence as a phenomenon of loss. As historical societies, documentary projects, and Congressional preservation acts made available a far more complete record of the Revolutionary War, historians discovered anecdotes of loyalists and monarchists, of love affairs across enemy lines, and of all the uninterrupted amenities and celebrations that gave character to the culture of the British campaign. A devotion to the archive permitted chroniclers of independence to indulge the full anachronism of an early American moment that may have had too much love for Britain to be of use for narratives of national progress; this same methodology allowed for sentiment itself to operate as a logic of historical engagement—as a feeling for the particularity of a past that remains most resonant in its most fragmented and anecdotal forms.
Keywords: Revolutionary War, Britain, independence, patriotism